One Voice?

It’s an interesting fact: A uniform global brand hardly exists.

Now, what do I mean by that? By a “uniform global brand,” I mean a brand that has the same image, represents the same values, and stands for the same philosophies around the globe. I’m talking about a brand that exists uniformly without packaging design changes, without alterations in its metaphorical or real flavor, and without variations in the product selection associated with it.

Almost every global brand cultivates a different look, a different approach, a different taste, or a different name in 30 percent of its markets. If the world weren’t as connected as it is today, you would blame these local variations on a lack of communication between countries. Or perhaps you’d think isolation in some markets gave brands freedom from their corporate headquarters and consequently allowed brand variation. In the past, both these scenarios have contributed to brand variation. In reality, there was no need for a brand to speak with a global voice. Before the advent of global media, the benefits of speaking with a single voice would have been negated by the fragmentations caused by broadcast limitations.

But the reality has changed. We do have global TV, global newspapers, global magazines, and the Internet. In fact, we have so much global communication going on that most countries are banning global materials on their TV and radio broadcasts. France, for example, is banning the use of certain English words on radio, on television, and even in contracts between companies.

So here’s the massive irony: While the world’s discrete cultures become more exposed to a world culture, via the agency of global communications, branding is becoming increasingly local.

Just take MTV. You know the TV channel, right? Wrong. MTV is no longer one television channel. It is 30 different television channels, each with its own programming, content, style, and brand images. Each has been formulated according to the culture for which its signal is destined. The whole brand does exhibit shared values around the globe, but its local parts promulgate locally driven values that distinguish one station from the next. You could say that MTV has become global by deglobalizing. If the world were as global as communications imply that it could be, MTV wouldn’t be represented by 30 stations, but by 1. The fact is that cultural differences around the globe are still enormous, even amongst a narrow teen market.

Global branding is far from being truly global, in the way theory dictates it could be. Almost everyone in the Western world has access to the Internet and, therefore, has access to every brand that’s out there. But global branding is still a matter of balance between global and local values. It’s still a mixture of local culture and global attitude, of local traditions and global trends.

Don’t be fooled by the apparent reality. If you’re a manufacturer, service organization, or small business with international plans, your brand is far from global the day you emerge on the Internet. You’re present in a global environment, yes. But that’s just the beginning.

Take a brand like Starbucks, which, since its first store opened in Seattle in 1971, has expanded to more than 5,000 stores worldwide. One of Starbucks’s key global marketing plan commandments is to team up with local players to secure a local voice and, as a result, gain fast local penetration. Even the brand of all brands, McDonald’s, manifests local differences from country to country. In France, McDonald’s serves wine; in Denmark, it’s beer; in Australia, it’s McOz Burgers. By now, McDonald’s has developed a substantial local-product portfolio that has lent a necessary local twist to the global product and secured vital local acceptance.

So, be careful when you attack the world with your brand. Don’t be fooled by talk about a global market served by global media and cognizant of a global voice. It sounds great in theory. But the one-voice theory is far from being a global reality… just yet.

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